Family of Unite member worker compensated for asbestos disease

The family of a maintenance worker who developed a disabling lung condition after working with asbestos has received compensation with the backing of Unite Legal Services.

Jack Coleman worked as a plumber for a hospital in Yorkshire from 1980 until 2004, where he repaired pipework in the hospital. The service tunnels that Jack worked in were poorly ventilated and contained pipes that were lagged with asbestos.

He would manually remove the asbestos lagging to access the pipework, causing the asbestos to become airborne and settle on his skin and clothing.

During the first seven years of his employment, Jack was never provided with personal protective equipment (PPE), or warned about the dangers of working with asbestos.

Jack started to suffer regularly from chest infections towards the end of his career, and he was rushed to hospital in 2010 as he was unable to breathe. He had an x-ray and doctors found that he had developed pleural thickening.

Pleural thickening affects the lining of the lungs and can cause breathlessness.

Jack contacted Unite Legal Services to investigate his work history, where he was exposed to asbestos and the cause of his disability.

Unfortunately, as the case was in progress Jack died from a heart attack. His daughter, Sam, who is also a Unite member, continued the claim on behalf of her mother and the family.

Sam said: “My dad had been suffering from chest problems for years but he didn’t think it was because of asbestos. Even after he retired he used to enjoy going to the gym or having weekends away with mum, so to see him suddenly deteriorate was horrible.

“Unite Legal Services were absolutely brilliant, talking through my dad’s work history with my parents so they could understand exactly where he was exposed to asbestos during his career to help build his case. Even though dad passed away before the claim was settled, we have peace of mind knowing that he had been involved in instructing the investigations. He knew he had his union working to make sure someone was going to be held responsible for his condition.”

Karen Reay, North East, Yorkshire and Humberside regional secretary at Unite the Union, said: “Asbestos-related conditions often take years to develop, and for a long time Jack didn’t attribute his chest problems to exposure earlier in his career. It wasn’t until he began struggling to breathe, which in turn led to his diagnosis, that he became aware of the debilitating effects of asbestos.

“Employers have a duty to ensure that their employees are protected from harm in the workplace, but unfortunately cases of asbestos disease are far too common. By the 1980s, the dangers of asbestos were well documented, which makes the circumstances of Jack’s exposure all the more avoidable.”